In a bald-faced move to appeal to its donor base of meat-eaters, hunters and ranchers, the “environmental group” published a puff piece in its monthly magazine, Sierra, on the wonders of salami, meat pates, sausage and meat jerkies. I swear to God.
Seeking to ignore the facts that animal agriculture is the biggest source of water pollution in the United States; the biggest source of climate change; and the primary reason the rainforests have been decimated, the writer of the story, “Cuts Above,” has the audacity to suggest that eating these types of meats is “sustainable” because “no part of the animal goes to waste.”
EXCEPT THE ANIMAL’S LIFE GOES TO WASTE.
No worries. The author goes on to reassure us that the products featured in the article “are all made from animals that were humanely butchered and not pumped with hormones and antibiotics.” She doesn’t elaborate on how an animal who wants to live might be “humanely butchered.”
Perhaps you wonder how a Vicious Vegan like myself might have the opportunity to look at the Sierra Club monthly magazine. A long time ago when I still believed that the Sierra Club was committed to saving the environment, I got myself a lifetime membership. Now, there’s not a month that goes by when that group doesn’t manage to disappoint me.
Wouldn’t you know it? It’s the health food freaks, the almond milk guzzlers who are fueling California’s water shortage. Did you know that it takes a whole gallon of water to raise one almond?
A whole gallon.
Those self-righteous vegans who think they know something!
Since I happened to have a pound of almonds in the refrigerator I decided to count up those little water suckers and see how much water it takes to produce a pound of almonds. It was bad. Four hundred and thirty-three gallons of water.
Four hundred and thirty-three? Wait a minute. How about a pound of beef? (I dare say it’s a lot easier to eat a pound of beef than it is to eat a pound of almonds.) According to the folks at waterfootprint.org it takes between 3,000 and 5,000 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef.
“More than half the entire US water supply goes to livestock,” says the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
“It takes a lot of water to grow grain, forage, and roughage to feed a cow, as well as water to drink and to service the cow,” says the US Geological Survey Water Science School.
“Meat processing, especially chicken, also uses large amounts of water,” says the Environmental Working Group.
“The more plant-based foods we eat versus animal-based foods….the less water, energy, and other natural resources we use,” says the San Francisco Water Sewer.
If animal foods are such a big deal in terms of water usage, why, why, why did the New York Times, in their recent mega two-part series on California’s drought, not mention animal foods? Why did they instead focus on the water required to grow almonds?
I have four suspicions.
1) The reporters, like practically everyone on the planet, consider animal food eating “normal, natural and necessary.” (Thank you author of “Why we Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows,” Melanie Joy.)
2) They consider almonds to be maybe normal and natural, but definitely not necessary.
3) It’s kind of a sexy angle to zero in on almonds – almonds seem so innocent, but now we find they’re evil. (“Hey! Did you read this? It’s almonds that are using up all our water.”)
4) Pressure from the animal food industry, particularly the dairy farms which have been facing a serious challenge from the almond milk industry.
One of the big things The New York Times drought stories didn’t mention was water pollution, which by the way, is a rather large water suck. Turns out, according to the EPA, the animal foods industry is THE biggest cause of water pollution in the United States.
California’s Central Valley, which is dominated by huge dairy farms, has suffered serious ground water pollution caused primarily by cow waste. A study by the central valley water board found that 40 percent of the dairies in that area – more than 550 facilities – reported that they had nitrate levels in their own wells of at least twice the drinking water standard and it’s become a health threat to those who have the misfortune of living nearby, especially babies and pregnant women.
No, the Brita won’t take out nitrates.
Also I have to say, that’s an interesting concept: “their own wells.”
When it comes to water pollution, nobody’s talking about almonds as far as I can tell. Still, California is producing a lot of almonds, most of which are exported abroad. I’ve read that 10 percent of California’s water supply is going to raise almonds. And 47 percent of California’s water is going to livestock, according to a December 2012 report by the Pacific Institute, titled “California’s Water Footprint.”
I won’t say whether anybody should drink almond milk or not. I will say, though, people should eat (one of my favorites) lentils instead of meat.
“By making one meal a week with lentils instead of beef, a family of four can save the equivalent of 17 bathtubs of water,” says Oxfam International.
Seventeen bathtubs. One meal.
PS: Despite the holes in their story, the New York Times reporters do deserve some credit though for finding possibly the most intellectually challenged man in the entire state to give his reaction on the water crisis: “I’m not going to stop watering,” said Matthew Post, 45, referring to the gardens around his Benedict Canyon home. “The state does not know how to arrange the resources they have, and so we have to pay for it,” he said. “They say that they will raise the prices because there is a drought, but when the drought ends, will they reduce the prices?”
Ok, fine, Mat, but how about cutting down on the burgers?
The poor Sierra Club really took it on the chin in the recent movie “Cowspiracy.” With a deer-in-the-headlights expression on his face, the club’s Deputy Executive Director Bruce Hamilton was filmed as he fumbled, mumbled and, well, choked in response to a question about the huge impact of animal agriculture on the environment.
Some of the facts that emerged from that (enormously important) movie: Animal agriculture (and animal food consumption) causes 18 percent of green house gas according to the United Nation’s 2006 report or, if you like, 51 percent, according to the World Watch Institute in 2009; animal ag uses exponentially more water than fracking at this point; the Amazon rainforest has been destroyed primarily by the meat industry; and there’s not enough land in the United States to feed all Americans free-range/grass-fed meat. It’s the same when you look at the planet as a whole. “The land’s just not there,” said a dairy farmer in the movie.
These are statistics that haven’t normally been broadcast by the Sierra Club, or as the movie pointed out, other well-known environmental groups, such as the Rainforest Action Network.
In 2008, despite pleas from some Sierra Club members for the group to come out against the animal food industry and meat eating, Josh Dorner, a spokesman for the Sierra Club, told Ben Adler of the American Prospect magazine: “The Sierra Club isn’t opposed to eating meat, so that’s sort of the long and short of it. [We are] not opposed to hunting, not opposed to ranching.”
Fast forward to 2014, October 22. It’s hot and unbelievably dry in California. Michael Brune, the Sierra Club’s Executive Director, came to speak at a Presbyterian church in San Anselmo, CA. I was excited to go and hear him.
Would Brune talk about “Cowspiracy?” Would he talk about animal ag, the rainforest and climate change? Would he talk about animal agriculture, fish eating and the destruction of the oceans?
And if he didn’t talk about those things, I decided I’d do my own personal follow-up to “Cowspiracy,” which I’ve now concluded is the most important movie of the century, if not ever.
As far as I can tell from my research on the internet, Brune is a stand up guy. When he took over the Sierra Club, he put a stop to the group’s acceptance of “gifts” from a natural gas company ($26 million) and multi-million dollar “gifts” from the Clorox company. And I have to say, over the last three or four years, there have been little mentions here and there in the Sierra Club magazine and on the websites of local Sierra Club groups, suggesting that meat eating isn’t good for the environment.
But there have been no major articles on the environmental horror of animal food production. No major announcements for the public to stop eating meat from the Sierra Club.
Taking the lectern at the church, Brune began his lecture with a couple of jokes about the Giants and the World Series, and then he settled down to the business of sharing the Sierra Club’s recent activities and accomplishments. We found out the Sierra Club has been working with First Nations Peoples of Canada to try and stop the tar sands drilling and the pipeline. We also found out that the director has been talking with oil executives, pointing out that the tars sands oil isn’t worth the money, since the price of regular oil is currently so low.
We also found out that the Sierra Club did an amazing job, during the Bush administration, in preventing the energy industry from building 250 new coal plants. He didn’t mention shutting down any of the 600 or more existing ones and admitted that while the club’s efforts really didn’t do anything to slow down climate change, at least they somewhat prevented it from getting worse!
But then, again, we learned from his lecture, it is kind of worse because China’s going nuts building coal plants. But maybe that’s not so bad because they’re also building a bunch of solar. And, by the way, we Americans should put solar panels on our roofs and stop using coal, so that maybe we can be a good example to China.
Forty-five minutes of Brune talking and there was no “Cowspiracy,” no “animal agriculture and the environment,” no “don’t eat meat,” and no “don’t eat fish.”
WHAT??? Even after “Cowspiracy,” the Sierra Club’s still not coming out with it?
Audience members had been instructed to write their questions for Mr. Brune on index cards.
And just so nobody thinks I’m being viciously vegan and unfair to the Sierra Club, I’ve decided to include, word for word, what he said about animal agriculture. It’s up to you, vegans and other interested parties to decide – Does the following sound like bullshit or not? Use your own bullshit detector.
Michael Brune: So I’m going to read the most controversial question I have. “A recent documentary called ‘Cowspiracy’ focuses on how animal agriculture impacts the environment. It impacts wilderness spots, land degradation, water pollution and shortages. Why doesn’t the Sierra club address this issue? Why don’t you have a Beyond Meat program like your Beyond Oil or Beyond Coal, Beyond Natural Gas initiatives?”
(Brune looked up and addressed the audience.) How many folks have seen the film “Cowspiracy”? A few people? How many folks are familiar with animal agriculture, industrial agriculture and its impact on the environment and how many people are familiar with the impacts of industrial agriculture, meat eating and its impacts on the climate? A large number.
(Brune was still talking.) So this movie, “Cowspiracy,” is a film that, as you might guess, develops a theory that the (environmental) movement organizations working on climate change are shying away from this issue and it attacks the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, I think 350.org, Friends of the Earth, NRDC, and others for not doing it, for not having a large, public big grassroots campaign going after the industry.
And the intimation is that we are afraid to do that, afraid to take on industrial agriculture or hesitant to do it because of donors or the personal lifestyles of leaders in the organizations. We’ve thought about it, because any time you’re attacked for not doing your job right, it causes you to reflect on what you’re doing and to see whether or not you should change your policies. We like to be a responsive organization that is able to accept criticism. And so we – (he stopped for a moment, then continued.)
The Sierra Club has been working on industrial agriculture for decades. Before I came to the Sierra Club, the organization was the leading organization going up against CAFOs, concentrated animal feed lots, taking a lot of these facilities to court (in order) to protect water quality, air quality, all around the country. We have a public policy that encourages our members to eat less meat. It doesn’t encourage them to go fully vegetarian, but it says eating meat has a big impact on the environment and on the climate and as activists, as people who care about the environment we need to eat less meat.
We also have made a strong connection between climate change and industrial agriculture. And we recognize that we could heighten the visibility of this work more; to draw the connections between animal cruelty and cruelty to the planet as a whole. So we’re looking to find other ways to highlight it. We’re not afraid to take on any industry. We’re happy to discuss this issue with anyone. We’re happy to find different ways to communicate about this. But, we’re not all that interested in spending a ton of time with folks who are more interested in criticizing our friends on the issue. We’re always looking for ways to improve.
(Brune took a few other questions, mostly about carbon taxation until he got to my card.)
Vicious Vegan card: I’m a lifelong member of the Sierra Club, yet I have not donated for about four years because the organization doesn’t talk about animal agriculture’s contribution to climate change, water pollution, erosion, etc.
Michael Brune: Well, I’ve got a membership form in my back pocket for whoever wrote that. I’d be happy to talk to whoever wrote that. I would love to have you as a supporter and a member. We are a grassroots-driven and we are member-supported and we care about this issue. I’d be happy to talk to anyone about what the Sierra Club has done and what a lot of groups who are being criticized have done for [sic] animal agriculture.
Vicious Vegan spoke out: Could you read the back of my card?
Michael Brune: There’s a back to this card? It says, don’t forget to read the back of this card. “And why won’t the Sierra Club tell people that animal agriculture is responsible for 18 to 50% of green house gas emissions?” I watched the movie and it’s hard to square that, that’s a big range, 18 to 50%, that’s hard to justify, however the impact is huge. I don’t think it’s 50%, I don’t think it’s 18%, but it’s still huge.
Vicious Vegan tried to speak out again: OK, what about water, the water pollution…(I was shushed by the minister of the Presbyterian Church twice so I finally shut up.)
Michel Brune continued: So while being (unintelligible) to focus on is our dream, it’s a large issue, it’s a significant issue, it’s a challenge our society has to meet. We do need to find a way to protect our forests, of which animal agriculture has a huge impact, particularly in South America.
We do have to find a way to get off of coal and gas. Animal agriculture relates to that, but not directly. We do have to find a way to drive, to transport ourselves, animal agriculture doesn’t (unintelligible) I don’t think we have to compete those challenges against each other. What I think is the room for improvement for the Sierra Club is to elevate food production to a higher level. And I hope that you heard me when I said that we’re looking to do that.
OK, is it really happening? I checked the current Sierra Club homepage. The only article that seemed to have anything to do with food was “The Four Best Foods to Forage – Who needs the agricultural-industrial food complex when you can gather for free?” The article mentions dandelions, nettles, raspberries, oxalis and enoki. Okaaaay.
The question still hangs I think: Is the Sierra Club full of shit or not? Check out Bruce Hamilton’s October 2, 2014 blog post in response to “Cowspiracy” and decide.
Maybe we should just give the Sierra Club and some of these other groups some time. But how much time do we have?
Listening to “Car Talk” a while back I heard one of the brothers sagely remark that some of the worst shit (my word, not his) happens after somebody says, “Hey, watch this!”
Consuming the monstrosity, “Meat Mountain” from Arby’s was a “Hey, watch this!” moment.
David Anthony was challenged by the A.V. Club to consume this moronically huge sandwich, Arby’s latest offering, made from the flesh of several kinds of animals – cow, pig, chicken, turkey, as well as some cow secretions in the form of two kinds of cheese.
Yes, the “Meat Mountain.” It’s 1200 calories, a boatload of fat, and a fistful of salt. It’s also a gimmick to try and sell more pain and suffering to a public which is already in pain and is already suffering, to say nothing of the pain and suffering inflicted on the animals used in the product.
I guess Arby’s is trying to compete with the Heart Attack Grill.
Apparently Anthony will do anything, no matter how stupid, on a dare. He ate the thing. And while he didn’t have a heart attack, his body still tried to send him message, which I will translate, “What the fuck are you doing?”
“… the effects of the sandwich began to hit me (shortly after finishing.) For no real reason I’d get a chill and my body would shake, a startling occurrence that happened every couple minutes. The gas that was filling me continued to be released without my control, which was nothing if not charming for all those in attendance. And, perhaps most notable, when I laughed my left side was met with a tight pain around my ribs. It turned out I wasn’t alone in such agonies, as the three other finishers uttered similar statements, with one of them even claiming he felt “feverish” for the rest of the day.”
And I wonder why was he laughing?
I know, I know, I know, the omnivores out there will repeat the oft heard cliché: “Moderation in all things.” Go ahead, have a bite of the Swiss, a bite of the cheddar, a bite of the turkey, a bite of the chicken, a bite of the cow and a bite of the pig.
And while you’re at it, why not a bite of the dog, a bite of the cat, a bite of your best friend and a bite of some cheese made from your cousin’s breast milk?